On Monday evening, during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, health officials in the country reportedly pushed for imposing additional COVID-19 restrictions for curbing the spread of the Omicron variant. The newly-discovered variant is spreading very rapidly, but the meeting ended without a decision being made regarding this matter. According to the Prime Minister’s office, officials will have a meeting once more on Tuesday to make a decision about new rules, as Israel prepares for what is being predicted as another wave of new cases caused by the highly infectious new strain. The statement indicated that officials were considering different options to stop the spread of the variant.
This includes expanding the Green Pass requirement, which asks for proof of recovery from the coronavirus or vaccination, to the whole commerce sector, imposing limits on gatherings and removing subsidies of antigen tests for kids who are unvaccinated. Media reports indicate that officials from the Health Ministry called for expanding the Green Pass and restricting large crowds. It remained unclear as to what response the Prime Minister had about the two recommendations. Nitzan Horowitz, the Health Minister, said that any new restrictions to be imposed should be on the condition of providing compensation to businesses.
The Finance Ministry was also strongly opposed to limiting gatherings, as it claims it could harm the Israeli economy significantly. Ministry officials also elaborated during the meeting that a compensation plan would not be introduced for businesses that would suffer financially because of limited gatherings. The report indicated that such grants would only be considered in the event of a lengthy lockdown. Bennett had proposed that unvaccinated kids be not allowed to attend school, while vaccinated ones could continue to attend educational institutions. The report highlighted that the premier suggested that children above the age of 5, who are eligible for vaccination, but have not been inoculated, should study via Zoom.
Health officials referred to this proposal as extreme and it was unclear if majority of the coronavirus cabinet would lend their support to it. The statement said that a possibly less extreme measure was also considered, which involved ending the subsidy for the antigen tests that’s given to unvaccinated kids, who have to show the test results for attending school. The data from the Health Ministry showed that on Sunday, the total number of new cases of COVID-19 in Israel were 1,013, which hasn’t been this high since October.
However, as of Monday evening, only 83 patients were in serious condition and 49 of these patients were considered critical. On Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had said that the Omicron variant was the reason behind the fifth coronavirus wave in Israel. There are 175 cases of the new variant that have been discovered in Israel and 40 of these came to light on Sunday alone. The premier also urged businesses to allow their employees to work from home where it is feasible, as this would cut down public interactions. He also called for avoiding public gatherings and wearing face masks.